Thursday, March 10, 2011

Christus Victor

The last few days I have been reading different essays.  There is no doubt that I like essays because of their length compared to the length of a book.  I also like essays because they help simplify the point being made so I am in a better position to get my mind around it.  The essay I finished this morning was by Gregory Boyd on the Christus Victor view of atonement.

I know that in many circles Boyd is viewed as a heretic because of his position as an Open Theist (more accurately the open view of the future).  Having read some of his thoughts on this position I don't think he is a heretic, even though I am not in agreement with what he says. There I two reasons why I think it is wrong to label Boyd as a heretic.  The first reason is because he is attempting to reconcile the Biblical data with human experience.  This is a noble task and just because he arrives at some different conclusions than have traditionally been given doesn't mean that he is intentionally leading people astray.  Feel free to disagree with his position, explain why he is wrong, but don't call him a heretic.

The second reason I don't think he is a heretic is because of his teaching about Jesus.  Ultimately this is what the Christian faith is about.  Boyd writes in the opening paragraph:
God accomplished many things by having his Son become incarnate and die on Calvary. Through Christ God revealed the definitive truth about himself (Rom 5:8, cf. Jn 14:7-10); reconciled all things, including humans, to himself (2 Cor 5:18-19; Col 1:20-22), forgave us our sins (Ac 13:38; Eph 1:7); healed us from our sin-diseased nature (1 Pet 2:24); poured his Spirit upon us and empowered us to live in relation to himself (Rom 8:2-16 ); and gave us an example of what it looks like when we live in the kingdom (Eph 5:1-2; 1 Pet 2:21). Yet, I believe all these facets of Christ’s work can be understand as aspects of the most fundamental thing Christ came to accomplish: namely, to defeat the devil and his minions (Heb 2:14; 1 Jn 3:8). He came to overcome evil with love.

That definitely falls within accepted orthodoxy of Jesus.  Is Boyd wrong about Open Theism? Maybe.  Is he a heretic? No.  In fact I think he can help us better understand what Christ's atonement really accomplished.

It is no secret that I have had trouble with the substitutionary view of atonement.  I get the view if it is a one on one substitution, like Aslan dying for the traitor Edmund in The Lion, the Witch, and Wardrobe.  My problem is that I  don't understand how Jesus' death is a substitute for my death as well as the death of all God's people. It is just something I haven't been able to get my mind around.  So for most of my adult life I have held it as a matter of faith, even though I didn't fully understand it.

The Christus Victor view of atonement is appealing because it has deeper historical roots.  It is the view that many of the early church fathers had, and that carries a lot of weight with me.  It is also the logical extension to the early message of Jesus, "Repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand."  This theme of the Kingdom of God has become a vital part of my theology, and thus why the Christ the Victor view makes a great deal of sense to me.
As Christ established the kingdom of God by the ways his life, ministry, teachings and death contrasted with the power-dominated kingdom of the world, so his followers are called to advance the kingdom of God by living lives that sharply contrast with the kingdom of the world. Instead of trusting the power of worldly force, we are to trust the “foolish” power of the cross and thereby proclaim its wisdom to the gods of this age (Eph 3:10). Following the example of our captain, we are to always overcome evil with good, trusting that when Easter morning comes it is goodness that will have won the day – and the entire cosmos.

I would encourage you to take some time to read through Boyd's essay.  You might not agree with his position, but think through why you don't agree.  Part of living a life of faith means to wrestle with what we believe and to actively pursue the truth, that is what made the Bereans so noble (Acts 17:11).

The “Christus Victor” View of the Atonement | Christus Victor Ministries 


Stan said...

Without commenting on Boyd himself, I prefer to think that "heretic" is reserved for people who don't merely have a variance with tradition, but who hold views that will do serious damage to accepted orthodoxy. If, as an example, I hold a view that there is no Hell, the ramifications are much bigger than "I simply disagree with traditional views." I don't think anyone considers Boyd a heretic because he disagrees with traditional views. They would say it's because of the large ramifications of a God who doesn't know. Again, I'm not making any statements here about Boyd. I'm just pointing out the difference between "we disagree" and "heretic".

I have problems, on the other hand, with the Christus Victor view. In its original, it was actually called "the Ransom Theory" and it required that Christ paid the ransom. There was some disagreement as to whom it was paid, but that was the early Church view. Boyd's Christus Victor view deviates from that Ransom theory to specifically deny a payment was made. His view is simply that Christ won. This avoids the many biblical texts that refer to the atonement as a transaction, a payment made. It also eliminates the justice of God (Rom 3:26), suggesting that by force or effort Christ simply nullified the righteous demand for justice for sin without actually having sin be paid for. Thus, this view of Boyd's is not the one with "deeper historical roots" (which would carry a lot of weight with me as well). Note, by the way, that the difference between Boyd and the current popular view is not "substitution", but "penal" -- Boyd's view removes the payment of penalty.

Now, I know you don't care for a lot of discussion on this blog and I recognize you weren't looking to debate the merits of Boyd's essay and I am certainly not up to a dialog on the topic. You did say "think through why you don't agree" and I thought I'd offer it to you. (As a sidenote, I have little problem with the substitution part of the atonement. I would have a problem if Jesus was mere man. Then we'd have one man capable of only one substitution. But the God of the Universe giving His life would certainly be capable of substituting for more than one man.)

Paul Steele said...

As always I want to say I appreciate your opinion. It is good to hear other viewpoints as I do my theological education in public. So rest assured that your comment has given me some food for thought. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

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